Abdul Rubel and Kakali Begum were taking all the preparation to hold a birthday party as their son is going to turn 13 on November 16 next.
But the parents of Iftekhar Ahmed Wazid, a 12-year-old boy and Class-VI student, knew little what lies ahead.
The boy was killed in Sunday’s tragic building collapse in Baburail of the city, just days before his birthday.
Now the ill-fated parents weep all the time as November 16 gets close.
On the day, he was learning how to read the Holy Quran at the residence of his maternal aunt Runa on the ground floor of the collapsed building. It was the practice what he used to perform regularly. But this time, he did not return home after performing the regular practice.
The whole building collapsed into the adjacent water body, leaving Wazid trapped inside. After 48 hours of the accident, firefighters recovered his body on Tuesday afternoon.
Abdullah Al Arefin, deputy director of Narayanganj Fire Service, said the boy was trapped under a wall when he was trying to leave the building during the collapse.
Relatives said two other minors had also been at the residence during the dreadful accident. Swapna, one of the minors, said she along with Wazid and another Shoaib were getting themselves out of the building after someone from outside asked them to do so.
Although both of them were trying to get out of the building fast, Wazid went back to the room to bring the Holy Quran that he was reading.
Right then, the entire building collapsed into the water body, leaving the three trapped inside it.
Swapna was rescued immediately while the body of Shoaib was recovered later at night.
But firefighters failed to find Wazid inside the building that night, keeping the hope of his parents alive.
She was heard to lament saying, “Where will I get my son? How can I lead my life without him? My son has been saying for the last few days that his birthday is getting close.”
Her 48 hours of wait to know her son’s fate ended on Tuesday afternoon when she heard that firefighters retrieved his body, although not in the state she would have prayed for.
She and her husband then withdrew into total silence.
Most rivers in Khulna Division are facing a serious navigability problem, hampering the movement of boats and vessels as repeated requests for dredging fell on deaf ears.
There are 78 rivers in the division and 25 of them have dried up while 10 are on the verge of dying, said sources at Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA).
These 25 rivers are Haria, Mayur, Hamkura, Kocha, Shela in Khulna, Bhola, Haura, Sara, Chuna, Jamuna, Ramsagar in Bagerhat; Sonai in Satkhira; Teka in Kushtia; Chitra in Narail; Kumar, Maragang and Bhadra in Madaripur.
Besides, sholas have developed in the middle of Rupsha and Pashur rivers under Khulna-Mongla river route, hampering the movement of vessels. Goods-laden cargo vessels navigate the area braving risks as a shoal emerged in the Kazibachha River in Batiaghata upazila.
A huge shoal has emerged in the Shibsha River from Deluti to Goroikhali in Paikgaccha upazila of the district, disrupting the movement of small engine-run boats.
Launches and boats are moving through three routes - Khulna-Madinabad, Khulna-Nildumur and Khulna-Jorsing routes – of the district while cargo vessels are operating on Abhaynagar and Nauapara routes in the northern parts of the division.
Recently, the BIWTA has written to the authorities concerned for dredging at 20 points of the rivers. The points are – Hodda, Nalian, Ghugrakathi, Manipur, Kurikaunia, Madinabad, Patakhali on Khulna-Nildumur route, Sardarghat, Mathbaria, Manipur, both sides of Bagi ghat, on Khulna-Jorsing route, Maninabad ghat to Patakhali point, Jaigir Mohol to Madinabad on Kopotakkho river, Chalna, Dakope, Kamarkhali, Botbunia, Kalibari, Arshibosha, Mongla-Chalna, Angtihara-Raimangal route, Khulna-Kalabogi and Joymonirgol-Sonnashi route.
According to the letter, dredging work is needed on the listed routes to maintain river transportation but the authorities concerned did not take any effective measure despite being informed several times.
Mostafizur Rahman, deputy director of BIWTA, said, “We’ve sent a proposal seeking dredging work on the internal river routes of Khulna-Mongla, Khulna-Barishal, Khulna-Bagerhat, Daulatpur-Gopalganj and Tekerhat-Gopalganj routes. The dredging works will start once the authorities concerned give the nod.”
SM Asaduzzaman, president of BIWTA Khulna Workers Union, lamented the current shabby state of the river transportation sector. “Vessels used to operate on 19 river routes from Khulna port only a decade ago. But now, no goods-laden vessels, except those carrying government food and fertiliser, ply these routes,” he said.
Over 90 percent officials and employees of Bangladesh Railway East Zone here have long been engaged in the illegal practice of renting out their allocated houses to outsiders as they found it very profitable.
Besides, union leaders and local influential people in collusion with a section of railway officials had grabbed vacant ones and rented those out to others, too, thanks to the negligence of the higher authorities concerned.
Following a visit by a team of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and media reports, around 500 such vacant units were sealed off recently by the authorities.
According to railway sources, there are 5,329 units of four categories in 30 colonies under the Bangladesh Railway East Zone in Chattogram.
Of them, 153 have been allocated among the first-class employees while 237 among class II, 2,255 among class III and 2,684 among class IV employees in a nominal rent.
However, a staggering 90 percent of the railway officials and employees have rented out their allocated houses to outsiders violating the rules.
Even, they constructed 10-15 houses on the premises of each quarter and rented those out to others as well.
Illegal gas and water connections were also provided to these houses.
The railway quarters are on high demand and the staff provide money illegally to have them in their names as they can earn huge money by renting those out to outsiders.
On October 29, an ACC team, led by assistant director of ACC Coordination office-1 Fakhrul Islam, conducted a drive in Tiger Pass and Pahartali colonies in the city and found the allegation to be true.
Contacted, ACC Public Relations Officer Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya said the drive was conducted following a complaint received through hotline 106 of the national anti-graft body.
He said the ACC team found the allegation of renting out the allotted houses to outsiders to be true after checking necessary papers.
After scrutinising the documents, it found that around 500 out of the total units remained vacant but during the field visit, they found that the railway workers’ leaders and local influential people occupied and rented out those to others.
“A report will be sent to the ACC for further investigation and legal action will be taken after having permission from the commission,” Pranab said.
Meanwhile, the railway authorities have sealed off all the vacant units which were under illegal occupation.
Contacted, Syed Faruk Ahmed, General Manager of Railway East Zone, said, “The quarters have been allocated for ensuring accommodation facilities of the railway officials and employees. But renting those out to others is very unfortunate as well as the violation of rules.”
He also said although a list of the railway staff who are involved in the illegal practice was made in the past, action could not be taken against them for want of required money.
Faruk also said the list will be updated and action will be taken accordingly.
The Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest, is home to two freshwater dolphin species – the endangered Ganges River Dolphin and Irrawaddy Dolphin.
A three-year project involving about Tk1, 284 crores was taken to conserve these freshwater dolphins.
With the project deadline set for December, officials say 80 percent of the work has already been completed. The rest of the work will be finished within the stipulated time, said Project Director Rezaul Karim Chowdhury.
“No decision has been taken to extend the project’s deadline. The survey findings will be published by the government,” Rezaul Karim said.
With financial support from Global Environment Facility (GEF), the project, taken in 2016, aims to bring about a massive change in the way the Sundarbans is managed.
The project is being implemented in the Sundarbans and surrounding areas by the Forest Department and United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
One of the main activities of the project is to locate the important dolphin sanctuaries besides gathering and using necessary information related to the conservation of those sanctuaries.
The activities also include finding any gap in the research on the dolphin species and solving them, social use of resources, creating alternative employment for local populace dependent on fish resources, and reapplying the strategies for effective management of the Sundarbans environment.
To meet the sustainable development goals, this project will ensure the declaration and conservation of the protected area for 10 percent of Bangladesh’s marine aquatic environment.
Rezaul Karim Chowdhury explained that although the project was taken in 2016, the work began in September the following year due to delay caused by various formalities.
“The survey of dolphins has not been completed even though the deadline is approaching. No decision has been taken to extend the deadline,” he said.
There were 451 Irrawaddy Dolphins and 225 Ganges River Dolphins in the rivers of the Sundarbans according to 2006 statistics.
The issuance of ePassport faces further uncertainty as the authorities concerned could not yet fix any fresh date for its launching although they have missed two deadlines earlier.
ePassport was scheduled to be issued in June this year under a project titled “Introduction of ePassport and Automated Border Control Management in Bangladesh”. Later, it was deferred to July but now it is uncertain when ePassport will be rolled out.
An official at the Ministry of Home Affairs told UNB that though the Department of Immigration & Passports (DIP) is almost ready to issue ePassport, the department, especially the Project Director (PD), is yet to inform the ministry about the completion of their preparations.
“As soon as they’ll inform us that they’re ready for the distribution of ePassport, we’ll finalise the date to go for it,” the official said wishing to remain anonymous.
On August 1, he said, the Home Ministry issued a notification about fees, duration and types of delivery of ePassports from both home and abroad.
He said they have to issue notification again cancelling the previous one as they have to change the application form. “But the fees, duration and delivery types will remain the same.”
Contacted, Project Director Brig Gen Saidur Rahman Khan told UNB that the date for launching ePassport is yet to be finalised as it is the Home Ministry that will do it.
When asked that the department is yet to inform the Home Ministry that it is ready for the distribution of ePassport, Brig Gen Saidur said the ministry is aware of everything. “Please give us time, we’ll let you know about the launching date,” he added.
While talking to reporters at the Bangladesh Secretariat on November 3, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said, “ePassport is expected to be rolled out at the end of the year, but no date has been fixed yet.”
Replying to Foreign Minister’s announcement that ePassport would be launched on November 28, he said,” We’re working on it…we can say better about it. But no date has been fixed yet.”
Sources at the DIP said the distribution of ePassport was scheduled to start in December last year but it was pushed back to June this year. Yet, the authorities concerned failed to begin the work in the stipulated time.
Meanwhile, the government has moved again to procure 2 million more machine readable passports (MRPs) on an emergency basis directly from the existing supplier through the direct procurement method (DPM).
Officials at the Security Services Division (SSD) of the Ministry of Home Affairs, which initiated the move, said the failure to introduce e-Passports has prompted them to go for such a costly procurement of MRPs without tender.
Arranging fund for the project delayed the work as it was approved by Ecnec on June 21 last year and the national budget for 2018-19 was also proposed on the same month. So, it took time to arrange the fund for the project. Besides, various complications also arose during the work, said an official at the DIP headquarters.
According to a Home Ministry circular, there will be two categories of ePassport—one containing 48 pages and another type 64 pages, and the duration will be of 5 and ten years. The delivery duration will be of three types — general, express and super express.
The ePassport has an embedded electronic microprocessor chip which contains biometric information used to authenticate the identity of the bearer.
Bangladesh and Germany signed an agreement on July 19 last year following Dhaka’s decision to issue electronic passports alongside the machine readable ones.
The DIP sources said the issuance of ePassports will start from Dhaka initially. The distribution of MRP will continue from other regional offices until they start issuing ePassports. The existing MRPs will be accepted during their valid period.
The installation of e-gates is going on at every airport and land port across the country to facilitate the use of ePassports.